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The Grey Lynn Library Hall is the site of a battle for free speech.
The Grey Lynn Library Hall is the site of a battle for free speech.

SocietyDecember 4, 2020

Anti-conspiracist campaigners take aim at ‘Mothers for Freedom’ event

The Grey Lynn Library Hall is the site of a battle for free speech.
The Grey Lynn Library Hall is the site of a battle for free speech.

The gathering at the Grey Lynn Library Hall promises to take on a ‘corrupted election’, 5G, Covid-19 and ‘Satanic ritual abuse’.

A new online group has formed to combat conspiracy and disinformation, and their first project is challenging an event scheduled for a council-run venue in the Auckland suburb of Grey Lynn tomorrow. Hosted by “Mothers Who Stand for Freedom”, the “strategic planning workshop” at the library hall promises to address “issues of national importance” which read like a list of conspiracy theorist talking points: 5G, Covid-19, climate change, vaccination, election corruption and “satanic ritual abuse” (SRA).

Rabbit Hole Resistance has as its first action lodged a complaint with Auckland Council about the event. RHR is “a support group for people who are worried about their friends and whānau drifting into conspiracy theories, but it’s also a non-violent action group”, said Anke Richter, a journalist with a special interest in cults and conspiracy theories and one of the group’s founders.

Richter has spent time with alternative communities and cults and has seen how conspiracist views develop. “I’ve gone through my own despair and disbelief,” she said. Now she’s seeking to help others learn to communicate about conspiracy theories and with conspiracy theorists. “We said, ‘we know this is a problem, we know this is happening, what can we do?’”

Tomorrow’s three-hour workshop offers “an interactive opportunity to meet with like-minded freedom lovers and plan out some real action for the coming months”, reads an event page. Participants include one speaker who believes climate change is a “huge hoax perpetrated against the human race”.

In attendance at a post-event “Ponsonby pub crawl” will be Damien De Ment, a New Zealand-based YouTube propagandist who has promoted far-right disinformation and white nationalist conspiracy theories, and spoke at an Advance NZ anti-lockdown protest earlier this year. He has falsely asserted that the US election was rigged, a new world order is controlling the planet, and Jacinda Ardern is leading the “Islamification” of New Zealand. He has advertised the Beyond Politics event on his Facebook page.

The talking points at Beyond Politics are tightly aligned with QAnon conspiracy theory.

“The whole kaupapa is really around compassionate communication and non-violent action,” said Richter of Rabbit Hole Resistance. The group has in this case called and emailed Auckland Council to make them aware such a group may be spreading misinformation in a public venue.

Jacinta O’Reilly, an activist and member of Rabbit Hole Resistance, said Mothers Who Stand for Freedom are “an anti-Covid-19 conspiracy theory group, but they are promoting themselves without completely identifying what their view is”.

One complaint from a member of RHR, sent to six members of the Waitematā local board, drew a link between the slogans endorsed by Mothers Who Stand for Freedom and the sprawling QAnon conspiracy theory.

“The Mothers Who Stand for Freedom group is a QAnon group. QAnon has been classified by the FBI as a terrorist group,” it reads. “QAnon has been resulting in more and more violence overseas, and we’ve seen an uptick in violent, right-wing extremism in the last couple of years in this country. The ‘Covid-19 is a hoax’ rhetoric is obviously a risk to our public health. NZ has a strong response to Covid-19 and these groups work to reduce that or influence public opinion with outright false information.”

In a press release dated September 23, Mothers Who Stand for Freedom called on governor general Dame Patsy Reddy to use reserve powers to repeal the Covid-19 Public Health Response Act. They described this action as “effectively ending lockdowns, closing detention centres and restoring our Bill of Rights”. There are no Covid-19 detention centres in New Zealand. The end of the press release stated “We are sovereign. We are free.” This exhortation echoes language used by members of QAnon.

The group has already had one event cancelled: a series of lectures on SRA at the Rudolph Steiner house in Ellerslie. SRA is a common theme in QAnon lore: a core conspiracy that a deep state global network of some sort is abusing and trafficking children (for immortality, for a high, for beauty).

In the US, panic caused by the QAnon Wayfair conspiracy overwhelmed a human trafficking hotline, preventing people in real need from receiving help. In New Zealand, conspiracy theorist groups have burned down cellphone towers and trespassed on a boat they (incorrectly) believed Ghislaine Maxwell resided in.

The group’s website and Facebook page don’t declare any links to the US-born conspiracy network. In October, Facebook declared it would remove QAnon-linked groups from its platform.

Auckland Council’s manager of community places, Kevin Marriott, told The Spinoff the council is aware of the concerns regarding the Beyond Politics event but will not be taking action.

“Our community venues are places where Aucklanders come together to connect, socialise, learn and grow. We operate them on the principle that the venues are accessible to all and available for anyone to hire, provided the use is lawful. This and other requirements are clearly stipulated in the terms and conditions of use, and we work closely with our customers to ensure that they can comply with them.

“Accepting a booking through our online booking system is not an endorsement of an event by the council. It’s also important to note that the Grey Lynn Library is not involved in this event in any way.”

Last year a far-right speakers’ event at the Bruce Mason Theatre in Takapuna was cancelled after Auckland Council’s regional facilities department ruled it posed a health and safety threat. Auckland mayor Phil Goff praised the decision at the time, saying “the right to free speech does not mean the right to be provided with an Auckland Council platform for that speech”.

Mothers Who Stand for Freedom responded to comment saying that they are not connected to the QAnon movement. “We aren’t organising the Saturday event just supporting,” a spokesperson said. “A South Island Maori leader is facilitating this event. As far as we know he has no involvement with the Q movement.”

This piece has been updated with comment from Mothers Who Stand for Freedom.

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